HAMMOND — Under different circumstances, Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts said he may have had reason to raise an eyebrow.
The Lions not only dropped their last game two weeks ago — a 27-17 defeat at Stephen F. Austin — but lost their grip on the Southland Conference lead, falling into a three-way tie for the top spot.
With one of the tri-leaders — McNeese State — set to visit Strawberry Stadium in two weeks, Roberts was steadfast in saying his club will have its undivided attention on Saturday’s 3 p.m. home contest when No. 14 Southeastern (6-3, 4-1) entertains Houston Baptist (2-7, 1-5).
“I’d be a little more concerned with that if we weren’t coming off a loss and a bye week,” Roberts said. “I think our guys are just eager to go and play. They’re a little healthier, a little fresher. It’s one thing to talk about winning championships and another when you’re in those final weeks. It’s do or die. I don’t see any reasons to be looking past them.”
Last year’s SLC championship — the Lions’ first — was marked by a 7-0 run through league play.
The Lions’ preseason objective of repeating as conference champion remains but will have to carry a blemish after failing to rally from a 17-point deficit at Stephen F. Austin.
Senior quarterback Bryan Bennett, who did not start because of an injured shoulder, came off the bench to bring SLU to within 17-10 and threatening to get as close as three points before SFA turned away the Lions with an interception at the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
Roberts said he expects his team to be as healthy as it’s been in more than a month, including Bennett.
Bennett, who has completed 108 of 205 passes for 1,784 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions, ranks fourth in the conference in total offense (265.4), fifth in passing average (198.2) and seventh in passing efficiency (135.7).
“With a win, it’s a little relief off your shoulder going into a bye week,” SLU wide receiver Jeff Smiley said. “With a loss, it’s different. That’s all you’re thinking about going to sleep and when you wake up. It’s made our mental edge go up. We’re ready to get back and get that one back.”
SLU linebacker Drew Misita said if the team’s first full-contact practice Tuesday was any indication, the Lions’ focus is squarely on Houston Baptist.
During last week’s open date the Lions worked out lightly for two days for just over an hour, lifted weights with injured players focused on getting healthy for the team’s stretch run.
“We had one of the best practices we’ve had all year,” said Misita, the team’s second-leading tackler with 59 stops. “The cooler weather’s coming in, and that’s what people refer to as playoff weather.”
Houston Baptist defeated Texas College 72-6 and stopped a four-game skid Oct. 18 with a 31-21 SLC win over Nicholls State.
The Huskies, who were drubbed 72-14 at Lamar last week, are ranked at or near the bottom in most of the conferences major categories, including last in passing offense (150.1) and next-to-last in scoring defense (41.3).
“We feel we’re in control of our own destiny,” Smiley said. “At first, we put a lot into thinking we were just going to fly by. It’s made us concentrate game by game. You have to win the day in practice and focus on the task at hand right now, not in the future.”
Added Misita, “There are two home games left and both of them count big. We’re hoping to get a couple of more and earn some in the playoffs, but we’re just taking it week by week. It’s going to be a fun home game this week, and we’re ready for it.”